West Tisbury names Dan Waters to new poet laureate position
At their meeting last week, the West Tisbury selectmen officially designated Dan Waters of Christiantown Road as the town's first poet laureate, an honorary and unpaid position created by voters at the April town meeting at the suggestion of mystery writer Cynthia Riggs. West Tisbury, sometimes called "the Athens of Martha's Vineyard," is the first town on the Island - and only the second town in Massachusetts - to designate such a person.
A three-person committee (Shelton Bank, Nelia Decker, and Ebba Hierta) recommended Mr. Waters, and their choice was endorsed by the library board of trustees. Speaking for the library board, trustee Linda Hearn wrote to the selectmen, "[Dan Waters] was chosen because he is a published poet and he has worked with young adults as a mentor, both at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School. He has read his poetry often, on-Island and off. He is always happy to contribute to the culture of poetry on the Island; his poems are read on the air and appear locally in the newspapers and magazines."
West Tisbury's new poet laureate, Dan Waters. Photo by Ralph Stewart
In a telephone interview, Mr. Waters told The Times that because there is no precedent, he has as yet few concrete plans for the job. However, he says that he feels a responsibility to "make the position something people will really respect."
He expects to produce a poem for next year's Annual Town Report and will probably also read a poem at next year's annual town meeting. He will continue to mentor students and to read in Island schools and at Island libraries and on the air. His new title may give him more opportunities to promote poetry on Martha's Vineyard, he says.
Mr. Waters' poetry is descriptive and often wryly satirical, recently collected in a slim volume titled "Needing Winter." Many will remember his earliest published efforts, witty four-line epigrams published in the Vineyard Gazette over the signature "D.A.W." Finding humorous and unusual perspectives on ordinary things, the little poems always rhymed and had a signature four-beat rhythm. They were so popular that people would clip them to post on refrigerators or send to friends. For the past ten years, they have also appeared in Yankee Magazine. A sample from the early Gazette poems:
To a Mosquito
I had a brief, remorseful feeling
Squashing you against the ceiling
Funny how mosquitoes which
Are dead can make your conscience itch.
For several years there was speculation about the mysterious D.A.W. Some thought it might be Dorothy West. She quickly denied it, but many didn't believe her denial. Certainly Dorothy West had the wit to be D.A.W. Another theory was that D.A.W. was a composite of one initial from each of three Gazette luminaries, including editor Dick Reston, a theory that did not bear close inspection.
In fact, Mr. Waters was at the time working for the Gazette as a typesetter, and at first the layout artists used the little poems as fillers. The four-beat line was just the right width for the Gazette's columns. Until they became popular, no editor upstairs in the newsroom even knew when they were going in or where they came from.
Mr. Waters' poetry has grown beyond clever epigrams, and the poems in "Needing Winter" are longer and more serious, often profoundly melancholy. However, one still comes across echoes of D.A.W., such as, ". . . Mother nature must have slipped / to make a day so nondescript." More often now in a five-stress line (your English teacher called it iambic pentameter), Mr. Waters still surprises the reader with unusual perspectives: ". . . green was just a summer job for trees."
While future poets laureate of West Tisbury may be writers of free verse or other more contemporary modes, it is fitting that Mr. Waters, as the first one, writes in traditional verse, expressing original ideas in forms some today might consider antique. In addition to writing poetry, Mr. Waters is a graphic designer and printer, doing business as Indian Hill Press. His web site describes his graphic works as "original, numbered, limited-edition works of art, printed by the artist from hand-carved blocks of linoleum, on acid-free handmade mulberry paper imported directly from a small workshop in Japan."
"I don't . . . apologize for being out of step with the modern world," he writes on his web site. "I write poems that have meter and rhyme. I make prints in a laborious medium that requires a lot of hand-work and antiquated machines."
One may meet the traditionalist Mr. Waters at the Artisans Festival at the West Tisbury Grange, or on-line at indianhillpress.com.